Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How Ya Doin'?

Holy cow - one month down and eleven to go. Where did the month go?? I'm still putting Christmas back in the closet and we're already looking at February. I don't usually make a big deal out of  New Year's resolutions - I make them every week, every morning really. No matter what I've done that day I go to bed every night thinking that tomorrow will be another opportunity to do better. However I define that.

This year I did have a few specific goals. I'd been dragging my feet on my work in progress and was determined to
push that Send button by January 31.
Did it on January 27. YAY!
I keep promising myself that I won't overcommit this year and so far so good.
I want to write a short story - and Reine has given me my first line!
I did not lose the five pounds I hoped to this month, but I lost two and that was pretty good considering skinny margaritas, beer and nachos were on the menu in Dallas.

So how are the rest of you doing? Don't worry if it's not so great...tomorrow's the first and that's another clean slate.
PS(Come back tomorrow for Under the Sheets....and aren't you curious to know what THAT means?)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mama Said

ROSEMARY HARRIS: "Mama said there'll be days like this, there'll be days like this, my mama said!" The Shirelles
My mother, who would have been 80 this year, said lots of other useful things, too like - "If all of your friends were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump too?" (This, needless to say, in response to any statement from me about something my pals were doing.) Was this just a Brooklyn thing? Did mothers in New Jersey substitute the Trenton Makes Bridge? In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge?

She would occasionally break into the song "Sisters" from White Christmas when my sister and I got into an argument.

And she was right - I never did get another pair of eyes! (My eyeglasses in the fourth grade were particularly hideous. Think Lina Wertmuller. But powder blue.)
My all-time favorite mom-ism - she didn't know about the cucumbers, like Hank's mom - is one I think of often, and in retrospect, I should have appreciated her more for it.
"I can't put my head on your shoulders." As in, I can advise you, but you have to make up your mind. Oy! I wish she was still around to see how that turned out. Mostly wonderful, mom.
What were your mom's catch phrases?

RHYS BOWEN: My father was the one with all the catch phrases, his favorites being "Don't count your chickens..."  Before they are hatched being implied. "Eyes too big for your belly" when we left food on our plates, or sometimes "You must be twins, one couldn't be so daft." He had also been stationed in Egypt for four years during the war and frequently barked commands at us in Arabic, all of which we came to understand.
My mom has been dead for 13 years now and I'm trying to remember if she ever used catch phrases. She was a very modern woman, very trendy and would pick up the latest phrase from popular culture but no words of folk wisdom that I can think of.
Pity. I'd like to be able to hear her voice in my head, giving me the perennial warning.

HALLIE EPHRON: Lina Wertmuller's glasses?? Now that is a reference only Ro would make -- I had to Google images to find out we're talking white, not-quite cats eyes. A rather startling effect with LW's short white-white hair and black-black eyebrows. Funny thing, when my mother died, I somehow ended up with her reading glasses (black, same shape as LW's) and I couldn't throw them away.
Catch phrase. My mother went in for bits of verse. Like she'd narrow her eyes at me and say, "There was a little girl and she had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very very good, and when she was bad she was horrid."

She also told me "Don't cut of your nose to spite your face" (even now I'm not sure what that means) and "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water." Spilled salt immediately got thrown over her right (left?) shoulder.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I got the bridge thing, big time. It was just generic bridge.  But used often.
Let's see--she also announced, when we cleaned the kitchen, that one must "wipe off all horizontal surfaces." Oh, and--"thoughtful consideration of others is the sign of a true lady."
Also--"Get off your duff and get out there. No cute boys are going to come knocking at your door asking if you're available. You have to get out here." And "if you put it away in the proper place, you'll know where ti is the next time."
And "What happens to you in high school has no bearing on the rest of your life. Get over it. Those girls are peaking too soon."
Oh, and--"Hold your stomach in." And the classic "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" I think that had to do with dating, but since I never had dates, it didn't matter.

Huh. Apparently I was actually listening. She would have been happy to know that.

ROSEMARY: OMG, Why buy the cow! Obviously - um - I forgot that one!

LUCY BURDETTE:  You are so right Rhys, how sad it is when their voices fade from our heads...
Hallie, definitely got the little girl with the little curl poem too. Hank, your mother was so smart about high school!
And others my mother said: "A new broom sweeps clean." "Don't lie down on a blanket with a boy." (This is after she discovered me and my older sister in the sand dunes with some boys.) And my favorite: "Some day you'll feel about a man the way you do about the cat." Obviously she was totally bonkers for animals. My husband is still waiting for that day:).

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  You all make me laugh!  And miss my mom . . . Although she's still with us, she has advanced Alzheimer's, so when I can get her to smile at me and say, "I love you," it's a good day.  Hank, your mom was so wise. 
I did get the curl thing.  And "Your face will freeze like that."  Don't remember being warned about bridges, but maybe because we don't have many in our part of Texas.  Two things I remember very well--my mom would always tell me I was beautiful, and that I could do anything I wanted with my life.  Hard to beat that.

JAN BROGAN: Ro, over in New Jersey, we still used the Brooklyn Bridge as the reference.  And yes, Debs is so right, this is making me miss my mother. 

In fact, the hard thing about this question was whittling it down.  I have a saying that my mother turned out to be right about EVERYTHING.  At least, partly. The weirdest thing, though, was that she was a nurse, so she was always making medical pronouncements that seemed outlandish at the time but many years later turned out to have at least some truth in them.  She distrusted margarine long before they discovered transfats. She was certain that all her friends were having unnecessary  hysterectomies (turns out that statistically, at least, they were) and that doctors always proscribed too much medication - especially antibiotics. She even used to predict that we'd become immune to the antibiotics - I mean DECADES before the official warnings.

She always told me to "save more than you spend"  and "stop negotiating with your children," and to travel a lot.  "Travel is the world's best education." was one of her favorite expressions.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  My mother is still very much alive and still dispensing useful information like, "Mix the flour and cold water first, THEN add it to the gravy," and "Sometimes, you'll arrive at a college and your teen won't even want to get out of the car and take the tour. Don't make him take the tour. He won't change his mind."

Growing up? I also heard about jumping off bridges, and not buying the cow when the milk was free, and "Soap's cheap," which was a hand-me-down from HER mother. "It's better to be stylish than fashionable." "Don't date a man you wouldn't be willing to marry." "Don't worry about the mess - you'll have time to clean house when your children are grown."
Probably most importantly, my mother told me I should be a writer years before I ever considered trying my hand at fiction. She saved everything I wrote, critiqued it mercilessly, praised it sparingly and urged me to follow my heart and my talents even if it meant giving up lawyering. I probably wouldn't be here today if it weren't for her. Thanks, Mom!

ROSEMARY: So tell us, what was it your mama said?
..and click on the link below to see a cute video of Dionne Bromfield's version of Mama Said.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Have You Seen This Boy? a guest blog by Todd Ritter

 Todd Ritter burst onto the scene a little over a year ago with the highly-acclaimed Death Notice, a small town mystery with some very sharp edges. While working at the Newark Star-Ledger (the same paper that brought us Brad Parks! Is there something in the coffee machine?) Todd's managed to publish an ebook novella, Vicious Circle, and another mystery, Bad Moon, all set in the same not-so-quaint town of Perry Hollow and featuring Police Chief Kat Campbell. 

Today, Todd shares with us part of his creative technique - and asks for your help in solving a real-life mystery.

I like to think of writing as being a kind of Impressionist painter. With a few sharp strokes of the pen (or a flourish of taps on the keyboard), writers can conjure up images that, while perhaps brighter and more distorted, still resemble the world we live in. And like the Impressionists of yore, many writers — myself included — base those images on something we’ve seen in real life.

Yes, that’s my highfalutin’ way of saying that I use photographs to help me write. Sometimes it’s out of necessity, like when I need to describe a specific object or real-life location that I’m not familiar with. Usually, though, it’s more for inspiration. Looking at a picture of a crumbling Victorian house on the wrong side of town helps me conjure up a different crumbling house in my head, which I then place, with a few more alterations, on the page.

I do the same thing with characters, which is why, not too long ago, I found myself scouring the Internet for pictures of children from 1969. The research was for my second mystery, BAD MOON, which, although set in the present day, focuses on the search for Charlie Olmstead, a boy who vanished on July 20, 1969. Because I’m quite possibly the most neurotic writer in existence, I knew I couldn’t complete a word of the book unless I knew what poor, little Charlie looked like.

So I fled into the comforting arms of Google, using a combination of weird (and, out of context, quite shady) search terms to find a suitable image on which to base Charlie. I typed things like “Boys+1969.” Or “Sixties+children+boys.” And “Pennsylvania+missing boys.” Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the perfect Charlie.

Here’s the picture:  

And here’s how I described it in BAD MOON: The page was a reproduction of an old newspaper article, accompanied by a photograph of a boy who had a tiny nose and jug-ears. He wore a shirt and tie and had spit-slicked blond hair, leading Nick to assume it was a school picture. And although the boy was giving a lopsided smile, there was sadness in his eyes. Above the article and photo was a simple, devastating headline: PERRY HOLLOW BOY, 10, MISSING.

Not exactly what’s in the photograph, but not too far off, either. Like the picture in real life, I wanted the one in the book to be simple, but haunting. Enough for readers to keep tucked in their memory as they slowly discover what happened to young Charlie.

As for me, that picture is seared into my brain. I can’t think of BAD MOON without that image popping into my head. I also know that I never would have been able to write the book without it. They say a picture is a worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture was worth roughly a hundred-thousand words.

There’s only one problem: I have no idea who this person is. I forget the exact search terms I used to find it and, despite repeated attempts, haven’t been able to locate it again. Which is a shame. I’d love to track down whoever this person is, send him a copy of BAD MOON and thank him for inspiring the book.

This is where you come in, awesome Jungle Reds readers. I want you to help me solve this real-life mystery. Have you seen this boy? Maybe one of you out there recognized him. Perhaps he’s your brother or now your husband. Maybe he’s an old classmate or a former neighbor from way back when. Any information on his whereabouts would be greatly appreciated. So if you have an inkling as to who he might be, shoot me an e-mail at todd@toddritteronline.com.

I know it’s a long shot. The Internet is crammed with images, and the fact that one of you might know anything about this one is unlikely. But stranger things have happened. And if your information leads to me finding him, then you, too, will get a signed copy of BAD MOON.

Until I hear from you, I’ll be searching the unruly vortex that is the Internet, hoping that I’ll once again come face to face with the picture of the boy I only know as Charlie Olmstead.

Todd Ritter is an author and editor. His second mystery, BAD MOON, was released in October by St. Martin’s/Minotaur. You can visit him online at www.toddritteronline.com, read his blog, friend him on Facebook and chat with him on Twitter (@ToddARitter).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reds in Bed

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  It's been a long, hard day, but it's finally over, and you're headed up to the bedroom. You kick off your shoes, start peeling off layers: goodbye anything with an underwire, with a waistband, with spandex. Finally, you're ready for the best part of the evening... pajamas. Reds, most of us have been married more than a few years, so you know what I'm talking about. Does anything feel as food as finally getting out of those Spanx and into a ancient nightgown large enough to shield a family of four? No, it does not.

When I was a newlywed, I had a different sort of nightwear. I'd been given at least three impractical gowns with straps and ties and satin panels that tangled around my new husband's legs until he'd say, "What the hell is that?" I had a few pieces of expensive fabric and lace that weren't meant to be worn for more than say, a half hour at a time (and good thing to, because they were usually uncomfortable in proportion to their bareness.) And of course, I had the pajamas I actually wore: plain short cotton nighties, because I'd been living in Washington, DC for four years, trying to sleep in student apartments with barely-working air conditioners.

It took one winter in Maine to seduce me to the plaid side. All that silk and satin got shoved in the back of the closet, replaced by extra-roomy L.L. Bean pajamas (the bigger they are, the more heat they hold in.) The great thing about marrying a Mainer? You can show up for bed wearing an undershirt, flannel Pjs and woolly socks, and he'll get excited. Seriously.

When the kids started arriving, I got into polarplus pants and thermal tops - they could go from spit-up-covered to spanking clean in just 45 minutes through the washer and dryer. After the baby barf years were over, I upgraded to some nice quality Lanz of Salzburg flannel gowns (my bff who went to Smith swears if you brush your hair and put on your pearls, you can go out in a Lanz.) But you know, it's not like I threw anything away. After a few decades, pajamas are like comfortable, unpretentious old friends who will never let you down. That tear in the leg seam? Ventilation. Half the buttons fell off and got lost? That makes it a peek-a-boo top. Sexy, right honey? Honey? Are you asleep?

People make jokes about writers working in their pajamas. I rarely do, because if you have them on all day, where's the electric thrill of pulling on those ratty sweats you're had since graduate school? So dish, Reds: are you practical plaid or sensational silk when it's time for bed?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I'd like to think that I still wear - on a regular basis - the lovely nighties housed in what my husband refers to as the shrine to La Perla and Victoria's Secret, but more often than not it's boy shorts and a cami. When the temperatures drop, boxers and a cami. The problem with those lacy things is that they usually come off quickly - and afterwards you're cold!

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Oh, how embarrassing.  I have two Sleepless in Seattle cotton nightshirts, one pink, one blue, bought on a book tour stop in that lovely city years ago.  I alternate them, wear one, wash one.  One of these days they will disintegrate.  But I LOVE them.  It's an affair to remember...

Oh, I used to ask for Lanz nightgowns for Christmas when I was in junior high! (very hot teenager, obviously...)  I can't sleep in a long nightie now--I must toss and turn so much that I wrap myself up like a mummy!

RHYS BOWEN: Those lacy. naughty things are so uncomfortable. They slip around and the straps get stuck in odd places! Our house is warm so I stuck to silk all year. I have a pale blue silk nightshirt that I love (almost to death because I've stitched it up twice). Silk feels so cool and elegant and just right against my body. Actually I'd love to be cold enough to warrant a long flannel nightgown but my husband keeps the thermometer at tropical levels.

LUCY BURDETTE: Obviously Ro is the most stylish of us so far, though we haven't yet heard from Hank! I went through a long stretch of Lanz of Salzburg, too, Julia, but now I'm on to organic cotton, ultra-soft, Asian-style nightgowns from Garnet Hill. And a battered old white terry robe. It still has buttons, but the silky covers fell off so I have to fasten it shut with the remaining metal stubs. Oh my husband is sad about the drawer of fancy nightwear that I never open--but they are not comfortable!! (and Birkenstock sandals, which never fail to make a superb fashion statement...)

JULIA: Just looked at the Garnet Hill stuff online. Want!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Aw, Lucy, thank you. If I could wear a Lanz nightgown, flannel with lace, I would. But it just seems...well, I wear tiny camisoles and fluffy drawstring pants. (Or camisoles and little bikini bottoms. Is this more than your EVER wanted to know? It's more than I want to know... I too have a stash of slinky stuff, but it's just not fun to wear.) Sometimes a thermal tank and sweatpants. Sometimes a big t-shirt with the First Amendment on the front. What I LOVE? My slippers. I cannot tell you how much I'm in love with my gray flannel slippers. (Honey? Honey? SO funny...)

HALLIE EPHRON: Love that image, Lucy -- black lace and Birkenstocks.

I love Lanz flannel floor-length nightgowns. The last one I had was red and when I laundered it I turned all my husbands underwear pink. I've never been good at laundry -- ever since he does his own.

For me sleepwear is about staying warm in the winter and cool in summer. And like Debs I have 2 nightgowns that get worn in rotation each season. Boring, I know. When it's REALLY cold I add a pair of retired (for good reason) sweatpants. Yes, Julia, the looser the better! And socks. Always socks in winter. I know, too much information.

ROSEMARY: Were we supposed to include footwear? Mukluks. What are Lanz nightgowns? Will have to google.

JAN BROGAN -  It's been a long times since I could wear a flannel nightgown.  Like since before I was married, which is a really, really, really, long time ago.  Sleeping with my husband is like sleeping on the radiator. No kidding. The Go-Green people should be looking into him as a renewable energy source. We sleep with the heat off, and I have to sleep in a t-shirt and underwear or I start tossing the comforter off the bed in the middle of the night.  Although, I do have a flannel pajama top to put on over my t-shirt when I'm reading and before he gets into bed. 

I do have a stash of lacey stuff. Most of it is uncomfortable, but I have a lovely pale green silk nighty that makes me feel like Myrna Loy. It gets some serious wear-time.

ROSEMARY: I can remember specifically asking for Myrna Loy-type silk pajamas. She really had something!

JULIA: Looks like we have a split. The all-about-the-environment (which for many of us in the Northeast, at least, means keeping warm if we don't have living-furnace husbands like Jan's) versus the elegant good looks group. How about you, dear Reader? Are you flannel, or Fredericks of Hollywood? If we get enough comments, we'll post a pic of Hank in her tiny camisole.

Just joking. We're serious authors here, and we're not going to stoop to trading on Hanks glamorous good looks.

We'll post a picture of me in a giant flannel nightgown and wooly socks.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Best Writing Advice You'll Never Get: a guest blog by E.J. Copperman

Looks like the Jersey Shore, all right.
The elusive and mysterious E.J. Copperman has long been a friend of the Reds. Rare orchid collector, bon vivant, international curling champion (we won't mention the rumors which suggest the sport is merely a cover for espionage) Copperman still manages to pen type word process write the Haunted Guesthouse mysteries. Are the tales of a ghost-ridden manse on the Jersey Shore ripped from life? Copperman isn't telling. (Showing, sure, but not telling.) We feel fortunate to get Copperman's unique take on the ubiquitous Advice to Writers.

Nobody has ever given me writing advice.

Wait. No. One person has given me writing advice, but I haven't followed it (maybe that's why nobody else has offered).

I know; I'm shocked, too. You always hear authors talking about "the best writing advice someone ever gave me," or "the one piece of writing advice I wish I'd never heard," or "the one piece of writing advice I always pass on to young writers." It seems like every writer is absolutely inundated with tips and inside information on the best way to rearrange those 26 letters in the English alphabet to somehow tell a coherent story.

Not me. The one piece of advice I remember getting--and this was in response to a direct question--was from the late brilliant comedy writer and screenwriter Larry Gelbart, who once told me (in response to deciding what to write about), "Go where the pain is."

I believe Mr. Gelbart was a genius, an underappreciated master who could make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same moment (he was also a ridiculously nice man and a gentleman). But I don't think I've ever heeded his advice. I haven't gone where the pain is. It's too painful.

Other than that, I've been on my own for quite some time now. And I don't really mind all that much. I mean, I haven't actually sought out any writing advice, although I haven't actively dissuaded anyone from offering it, either. I guess it's just never come up in conversation. I've met a good number of writers in my time, including many of the fantastically talented Jungle Reds, but I've never asked how they write, nor have they asked me. We just do what we do, and figure if anybody wants to know, they'll say so.

I really don't mind the lack of direct mentoring. I'm not sure I'd be able to implement any changes even a world-class writer might suggest. Writing is such a personal thing, after all. When an aspiring author asks, I will hand out two pieces of... I don't know that I'd call it "advice" so much as "products of experience":

1. Don't tell me about "Writer's Block." I don't believe there is such a thing. I believe writers are the best procrastinators on the planet, will do ANYTHING to avoid pulling the day's allotment of words out of their heads, and therefore have created a fictional disease that prevents them from writing. Nonsense. If you feel "blocked," write anything. It's easier to fix something you've written than to write something new.

2. Here's the exact style and method you should use in your writing: The one that works for you. If it entails getting up at 4 in the morning and working until 9, more power to you. Try not to make too much noise, because I'll be fast asleep. If your process is to write longhand with a quill pen on parchment, enjoy yourself. I am a Jobsian Mac maniac. I will avail myself of technology and write at 4 in the afternoon, when I'm awake. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. That's why there's more than one writer on the planet.

That's it. If you want more advice, you're going to have to ask questions. But I'll give you this for free, because it came from a genius: Go where the pain is.

Maybe it'll work for you.

E.J. Copperman is the author of the Haunted Guesthouse series, in which a divorced mom tries to run a Jersey Shore guesthouse that happens to be inhabited by two ghosts. The latest in the series (which can be read out of order), OLD HAUNTS, publishes on February 7. You can also friend Copperman on Facebook, chat on Twitter, or catch Copperman's blog, Sliced Bread.

Usually, we'd ask you to tell us what writing advice you've used, dear Reader. How about we mix it up this time? Share with us the most ridiculous piece of writing lore you've read or heard!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Ancient and Honorable Order of Detectionists

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  Yesterday's guest blogger, Val McDermid, used a wonderful word in her description of the camaraderie that exist among crime fiction writers: clubbable. That word caught me, because it seems so true for both those inside and outside the peculiar fraternity of authors.

Before I had ever finished writing my first novel, back when getting published as a pipe dream on par with winning the Maine Megabucks, I used to go to libraries to hear mystery authors speak. (This was in the dawn of the internet age, children, when Twitter was something birds do and face book was what you got when you fell asleep reading in bed.) I would listen to them discuss their craft and their experiences, and laugh with one another, and think how do I get into that club? I would shyly thrust a book towards this writer or that for signature, but I never stayed to chat. I always figured it would be an imposition on the august personages of the Published Authors.

Then a funny thing happened. I won a prize, and had my first novel put under contract, and then a second. Emboldened by my status as a soon-to-be-Published Author, I screwed up my courage to ask the next author visiting Portland, Marcia Talley, to have a coffee with me after her library appearance. Imagine my surprise when I discovered she was a human being, just like me. Our "one coffee" turned into a three-hour gabfest, and I still count Marcia as one of my great friends in the mystery world. The same thing happened when I visited my first Malice Domestic convention that spring. Authors would talk with me! Waiting for the elevator, on the escalator, at dinner, at the bar: indeed, it began to seem like the issue was going to be getting enough non-talking time to sleep and phone home.

I came to realize that, while its true crime fiction writers get along remarkably well with each other, they also, by and large, are ready to get along with anyone who loves reading, writing, or drinking (yes, sometimes those stereotypes are true.) There hadn't been any bar or admissions test back when I was still unknown and unpublished. I could have walked through the club doors simply by asking.

It's still winter, but the conference and convention season - The Edgars Symposium, Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon, Crime Bake and dozens of other book festivals and celebrations - will be upon us before we know it. If you go, remember: we mystery authors really are a clubbable bunch. And whether you're a reader, or just someone who likes thinking about murder, we'd love to have you join the club.

How about you, Reds? Do you recall the moment you realized you'd gotten your membership card in the Ancient and Honorable Order of Detectionists?

RHYS BOWEN: I remember it very well and was blown away at the time. My first Bouchercon (the world mystery convention) and I knew exactly two people. I was chatting with one of them when a noisy group joined us. I stood listening to their conversation as they decided where they were going to dinner. Then one of them turned me to and said, "Are you coming?"  It was Jeffry Deaver and I've never forgotten how special that made me feel.

Being part of the club is one of the biggest perks of the field. I love going to conventions and hanging out with good friends, laughing late into the night, making up spontaneous groups for meals. I love keeping up with friends online, bouncing ideas off them, feeling their support. And I have to say that Val was one of those lofty writers at the top of the tree who made me feel welcome the first time I met her and has been a good friend ever since (so much so that I was in her back-up group when she sang at Bouchercon!)

LUCY BURDETTE: I can clearly remember the two conventions I attended before I was anywhere near published--Left Coast Crime in Arizona and Bouchercon in Milwaukee (I think that's right.) Those two events were absolutely excruciating as I'm quite shy when I don't know anyone. Over time I've met hundreds of writers and readers and count so many as friends. I love going to conventions now (especially smaller ones) and getting the chance to catch up with good pals in person. On a different note, it was so much fun to meet Red Deborah Crombie last weekend in Dallas--after all the yakking we've been doing on this blog, it felt like I'd known her forever!

Bottom line--say hi when you see us around--as Julia says, we love our friends in the mystery world, online and off!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Oh, what a wonderful question. (And I just saw Val at ALA...stood in a looooong line to get her book! I'm such a fan.)

Anyway. When did I know. Hmm. I burst into tears at the Agatha nomination for Prime Time. Being interviewed by Margaret Maron. Getting a letter, via real mail, written by Sue Grafton. But you know--here's the thing. I was in the post office--the JFK Branch at Government Center in Boston.

A woman came up to me, and said, are you Hank Phillippi Ryan? I'm a TV reporter, have been for 30 years, so I'm used to being recognized. (and thrilled, every time.) So I said yes, thank you and...She interrupted me. I'm reading your book! And I love it, she said. And she pulled FACE TIME from her purse. Will you sign it for me, she asked?

I melted. And that's when I thought--all those authors I revere (and Julia, and Rhys, and Hallie and Jan and Debs and Ro and Lucy, you are among them!) some people think of me that way, too. Oh.  Life-changing.

HALLIE EPHRON: My first book did not get awards (though my new one COME AND FIND ME was just nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award -- WHOOPEE!) and I hadn't even the good sense at the point to belong to SinC or MWA. So my first conferences were excruciating.

My first Bouchercon in Denver reminded me of a wedding I once went to. Alone. Chinese friends were getting married, and everyone there was 'family' and they were all speaking Chinese. I ended up standing in the corner, smiling and nodding and sweating. I was halfway through eating a bao when I realized I was eating the paper wrapping.

So at every conference I just go up to people who look lost and alone and strike up a conversation. Makes me smile. Makes them smile. Keeps them from eating the wrapper.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Hallie, too funny!  But yes.  Oh my god, the first Bouchercon I went to, a few months before I sold my first book--what a memory.  I knew a few people from my Texas MWA group, and they were very nice to me, but still--there were all these famous authors and I couldn't imagine TALKING to them.  I was so overwhelmed by everything. Then, I was waiting outside the hotel for a shuttle, and Jonathan Gash came up to me and asked me how I was doing and if I was enjoying myself.  He didn't know me from Adam, he was just being kind.  I've never forgotten it, and like Hallie, I try to talk to people at conferences who look a little lost.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: This was a no-brainer for me. My first conference as a published writer, Love is Murder 2008.  First of all, there was a stack of Pushing Up Daisies - I'd never seen one out in public before and it was two weeks before the official pub date so I hadn't expected it to be there. Then, I was in a session Jon Jordan was leading on How to Do LIM (or something like that) and he recognized me and said my name to the group - and a librarian in the audience, the wonderful Monique Flasch from Glenview, said "Are you Rosemary Harris?"  Third wonderful thing that weekend - Lee Child bought a copy of my book and asked me to sign it! Made me love Lee, LIM, Chicago and even snow that whole weekend!!

How about you, dear Reader? Do you feel like you're part of the club? Has there been a particular author (like Jeffry Deaver for Rhys or Jonathan Gash for Deb) who has made you welcome? Or have you run into another book lover (like Ro's Monique Flasch or Hank's Post Office admirer) who opened the door for you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Immortal Memory: a Burns Night guest blog by Val McDermid

Val McDermid needs no introduction. Creator of the Lindsay Gordan, Kate Brannigan and Tony Hill series. Winner of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger, Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year, Pioneer Award (Lambda Literary Awards,) Los Angeles Times Book Prize, New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the Anthony Award, Macavity Award, and Dilys Award.  

The Robert Burns Night Supper may need a bit more introduction. Luckily, we have an expert. Let's begin the customary way:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
And now, our speaker:

All over the world today, my compatriots are sitting down to a feast of minced sheep’s offal mixed with oatmeal, onions and a liberal amount of black pepper, all cooked inside a sheep’s large intestine, accompanied by mashed potatoes and swede (a kind of orange turnip). This meal will be washed down with large quantities of whisky.

This is not a punishment.

It’s a celebration. A celebration with a reach far beyond a small nation that occupies the top half of a larger country sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. It’s a celebration with global reach. From Vladivostok to Valparaiso, from Anchorage to Adelaide, we’ll be toasting the same great man. Not a politician or a revolutionary leader or a messiah, but a writer.

That’s right, a writer. A man of humble origins, like so many writers. A man who was driven by his dream to overcome poverty, illness and woman trouble in his journey to become one of the world’s great writers, a man spoken of in the same breath as Shakespeare and Cervantes, Homer and Goethe.

Tonight, there will be thousands of Burns Suppers held in honour of Robert Burns, commemorating a writer whose life and work have inspired people for two hundred and fifty years. Usually I would be on my feet at one of those dinners, giving the speech known as the Immortal Memory, a toast to our national bard. This year I will be at the Santa Cruz Bookstore, where I suspect the best I can hope for is a decent drop of whisky. (Please don’t bring haggis – I once ate American haggis and it was without doubt one of the five worst things I have ever put in my mouth!)

A lot of people who do the rounds giving the Immortal Memory have one finely honed schtick. It’s all they need because they are somewhere different every year. I have no such luck. When I’m not in Santa Cruz, I deliver the Immortal Memory at my village Burns Supper. So just as I have to come up with an idea for a book a year, so I have to find an annual variant on the life and work of Robert Burns. I’ve done Burns the lover, Burns the revolutionary, Burns the stand-up comic, Burns the activist, Burns the drinker, Burns the social chameleon... You get the picture? Believe me, there’s plenty of variety in his life and work to keep me going for a few years more.

This obligation means that I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the years pondering where Robert Burns would choose to place himself in the literary canon if he was around today. In the 18th century when he was writing, there weren’t so many options for a part-time jobbing writer who lived out in the sticks. It was basically poetry or poetry. But now, he’d have choices.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? 
Yes, I think if Robert Burns had been born in 1959 instead of 1759, he’d have been a crime writer. Just think about it for a minute. His poetry reveals a man who was passionate about injustice, who believed in the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality. He loved his country but was alive to its faults. He pointed the finger at hypocrisy, he took on the establishment and he questioned the world he lived in. He was observant, compassionate, fascinated by women and sex, and had the typically mordant black humour of the Lowland Scot. All the qualities, in short, that embody the genre of Tartan Noir.

That on its own should be enough to convince the sceptics. But there is a clincher. What sets crime writers apart from other cadres of wordsmiths? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you conviviality. Crime writers are the party animals of the literary circuit. Three crime writers in a bar is a party. Three crime writers in the green room can turn the stuffiest literary festival into a shindig. We enjoy each other’s company because we enjoy and respect each other’s work without feeling threatened by the success of our peers. In my experience, this is unique to our genre.

Robert Burns was a man who loved a good night out. If you doubt me, just read the opening section of Tam O’Shanter. There’s our hero, in the pub with his pals after market day, getting loaded when he should be loading up his horse and heading home.

Yes, Burns would have found his natural home with us, not the whingeing poets. After all, we’re the only genre who boast an organisation -- the Detection Club in the UK -- whose primary qualification for nomination for membership is that one should be clubbable.

But here’s where I stumble. That word, ‘clubbable’. I can never see it without smiling at the thought of the inimitable Reginald Hill’s debut Dalziel and Pascoe novel, A Clubbable Woman. Reg was one of the first crime writers I met socially and he became a good friend. We walked in the Dales together, we ate and drank together, we had book event adventures together. He was erudite, generous, witty, the best of company and one of the finest crime writers the UK has ever produced. Robert Burns would have loved him.

I know I did. He was part of the rich tapestry of my writing life. And shortly before I left on this US trip, Reg died. The weight of that sadness has taken the lightness out of my days. But sitting alongside that sadness is the knowledge that our crime writing community will come together to celebrate Reg’s achievement. He’ll be spoken of with affection for years to come, he’ll be missed and like Robert Burns, that crime writer manqué, his work will be enjoyed. Even by people who don’t know how to enjoy a wee dram.
If you’re anywhere near Santa Cruz tonight, come along and celebrate writing and writers. I’ll be the one in the Robert Burns football shirt.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding, raise your glasses, and join the Reds in toasting the immortal memory of Robert Burns and his fellow scribe, Reginald Hill.
You can find more about Val McDermid at her website, friend her on Facebook, and chat with her on Twitter (@valmcdermid). Her 25th novel, The Retribution, brings back Dr. Tony Hill, DCI Carol Jordan and "her most thrillingly murderous creation, Jacko Vance." (Daily Mirror)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I spend my vacations in the Rust Belt: a guest post by CJ Lyons

Why I spend my vacations in the Rust Belt…
CJ Lyons

So many of my thriller writing friends get to travel to exotic locales to research their books. Egypt, Paris, St. Petersburg, Monte Carlo…

Me? My research trips are to Pittsburgh, PA, Ansted, West Virginia, Blowing Rock, NC and other towns so small they don't even show up on Google Earth…

You see, my Thrillers with Heart aren't set in locales James Bond would frequent. Instead they're set in the heart of America, small towns with ordinary people facing the worst day of their lives.

The same kind of small town, rural setting that I grew up in, surrounded by mountains, the best trout streams in the world, and strip mines. And they feature the same kind of people. Men and women that could easily be your neighbor (or mine).

My thrillers are about what it takes to find the courage to make a difference, to learn how to be your own hero.

While I love exploring the gray ares between right and wrong, good and evil, I can't help but think…wouldn't it be neat to set a book someplace exotic?

So when St Martins Press bought my NYT Bestseller BLIND FAITH as the start of a new series featuring FBI Supervisory Special Agent Caitlyn Tierney, I thought, wow, here's my chance. Caitlyn could go anywhere…or could she?

You see, Caitlyn may be a kick ass federal agent who's tenacious and smart, but she's still learning how to be a hero.

Being a hero means more than closing cases and keeping the bosses happy. It means making the tough choices, understanding that justice has little to do with the law, knowing when to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

Which means she's always in trouble with her bosses…and very unlikely to get any plum assignments such as FBI legat in Paris or counter-terrorism liasion to Interpol in Brussels.

So instead of policing international gambling syndicates on the French Rivera, Caitlyn will be going where right and wrong are muddied together. Places where it's hard to know what a hero should do. Situations where the only thing she can trust is her heart.

Keep an eye out…there's a good chance she'll be coming to a town just like yours!

In the meantime, if you had a chance to set a novel anywhere in the world, where would you set it and why?

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times Bestseller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.

CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at www.cjlyons.net and look for the first Caitlyn Tierney FBI thriller, BLIND FAITH, coming in July, 2012.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The ABCs of Social Media - a guest post by Dana Kaye, Kaye Publicity

Book writing often seems to appeal to non-technical, introverted, one-foot-in-the-19th-century types. But book publishing (and marketing and selling) calls for high-tech, extroverted, 21st century thinkers. Bridging the gap? Publicists like Dana Kaye.

In addition to having published several short stories and articles herself, Dana is young, hip, and carries a heavyweight roster of clients like Marcus Sakey, Gregg Hurwitz, Michael Harvey, publisher Tyrus Books and on-line readers' community Book Country. Her list just got a little shinier: her client Steve Ulfelder is an Edgar Award nominee for Best First Novel and her client Tracy Kiely has been nominated for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award (along with our own Hallie Ephron!)

Like all good publicists, Dana works with traditional media and speaking outlets, but she really stands out in the sometimes-puzzling, always-evolving world of digital social media. Today, she shares some of her expertise with us.

Social Media Basics

By Dana Kaye

The most common questions authors ask me pertain to social media. From the basics (What exactly is twitter? What’s the difference between a Facebook page and a Facebook profile?) to more advance questions (What’s the best way to translate your following into readers? How do you build a following through content?).

Today, I’d like to address the most commonly asked questions pertaining to Twitter and Facebook, from the basic to the complicated:

Should I make a Facebook Profile or Facebook Page? What’s the difference?

When Facebook first went public, authors were encouraged to have a Facebook profile. They became “friends” with their readers, posted book updates, and uploaded photos for their new friends to see. Most authors who got into the Facebook game early, have hit the 5000 friend mark (the maximum number of friends allotted).

Now I encourage authors to create pages. There is no maximum number of “likes”, you can create custom tabs for events, new books, or contests, and it serves as a more interactive website.

There are pros and cons to both a profile and a page, but right now, pages are more effective for authors. If you haven’t signed up for Facebook yet, start with a fan page. If you have a small following on your Facebook profile, create a page and let all your friends know that you will now be posting on the new page. If you have a large following (800+ friends) talk to your publisher or a social media expert about how you can migrate your friends over to your new page.

What should I post?

Whatever you post on Twitter and Facebook should be a part of your brand. This doesn’t mean that every post should pertain to your life as a novelist or the types of books you write. It means that each of your post should fall fit in with your online persona.

Before you decide “who to be” online (and don’t kid yourself, we all have or should have online personas), you should decide the type of audience you want to reach. If you write romance novels and your target audience is women ages 40-70, I don’t think posting about football or politics is a good personal characteristic to include even if you feel strongly about them. As yourself the following questions:

  • What do you write about? I don’t just mean the tagline of your latest novel. What are the themes, conflicts, and subjects explored in your books? Do you usually set your books in small towns or big cities? Are they high-concept or ordinary people trapped in extraordinary circumstances? Are your characters trying to fall in love, trying to kill each other, or trying to find themselves?

  • What are you about? Look into your background, the things your passionate about, the characteristics that make you who you are, and pick the ones that tie in to your writing. Do you have a passion for travel and write international thrillers? Do you write historical novels and teach history at a local high school or university? Are you involved in a charity, sports team, or other organization whose members might also read your books?

I approach twitter and Facebook posts as I do dinner party conversation: avoid the topics of sex, religion, and politics (unless those are directly related to your books) and always present the best of yourself.

I believe there are four types of posts:

  1. Professional post – links to articles, comment on trends, etc.

  2. Promotional post – encouraging followers to buy your book or attend a signing

  3. Personal post – a tidbit about your personal life that fits in with your online persona

  4. Interaction – replying or engaging in conversation with another user

Most people post heavily in one category. They only post personal things, or they only promote their books, or they don’t post original content and simply re-tweet or respond to other people’s post. Do your best to rotate through the 4 types of posts each day. It’s not a strict rule, you can interact more on one day and post more professional items on another. Just be wary of posting too much in any one category, especially self-promotion.

Will social media really help increase sales?

Though I don’t believe social media directly translates into sales, I know that the fringe benefits of social media will boost sales and name recognition in the long term:

  • Discoverability – potential readers are far more likely to stumble upon your Facebook page than your website. You have many more chances to “meet” people on Twitter than you do driving around the country doing book signings and networking events.

An active social media presence also increases your discoverability by the media. When Lynn Sheene began her “A Debut In Paris” promotion where she’d post photos of her book at famous Parisian landmarks, we began receiving emails from French publications, bloggers, even a hotel owner in Paris who wanted to throw a party for Lynn and the book. Her social media presence brought the opportunities to us, rather than us spending hours researching and sending inquiries to new media.

  • Provides Re-enforcement - I believe that people need to see a name or a logo three times before it sticks in their brain. When someone purchases a book online or from their local bookstore, most of the time, they have already seen an ad, read a review, heard a radio interview, or received a recommendation from a friend. Now, Twitter and Facebook adds to the reinforcement. If I hear a radio interview with an author, I may think the book sounds good and I may want to read it. But I’ll quickly forget. Then if I see people talking about the book on Facebook and Twitter, it will remind me and I will be more likely to actually buy it.

  • Making Connections – As was mentioned earlier, authors attend conferences, signings, and other events in order to build their network. But now, much of that networking can be done online. I treat Twitter like the bar of any conference: people are casually talking, debating, and meeting new people. It’s an online conversation.

Facebook does a similar thing. When I see people I haven’t seen in a long time, we can immediately skip all the small talk because we know what we’ve been up to based on our Facebook posts. We’ve maintained our relationship online so there is less need for reinforcement. If you have a book out every year, people will require less promotion before buying your latest release because you’ve maintained a relationship with them year round.

Dana Kaye is the founder of Kaye Publicity, a full service PR company specializing in publishing and entertainment. Visit Dana’s daily blog, 365 Days of Book Publicity, follow her on Twitter, and “like” her on Facebook.